Old Town shops hope to draw green on black Friday

Old Town business owners are betting they can reel in Black Friday shoppers with something big box retailers don’t have: unique gifts, quaint storefronts and discounts without the mob scene.

More than two dozen independently owned stores have banded together to offer discounted goods in the hopes they can lure shoppers away from the national chains and draw out customers who might otherwise skip out on the biggest sales day of the year. City Hall is lending a hand as well, offering free parking in all city-owned lots and garages and waiving parking meter fees for the day.

Count Joseph Egerton, owner of Arts Afire Glass Gallery, among the local shopkeepers hoping to see customers waiting to get into his store when it opens at 6 a.m. He’s relatively new to the Black Friday fanfare; like many Old Town business owners, he traditionally ignored the unofficial shopping holiday.

“In the past, [Black Friday] really was fairly insignificant,” Egerton said, recalling that the store never followed suit by opening early and maintained regular hours. “It’s a day that a lot of people are off so your sales are up, but not drastically like they are with a program like this.”

But Danielle Romanetti wanted to shake up the way Old Town took on Black Friday. Before opening her North Fayette Street all-things knitting store, fibre space, three years ago, Romanetti regularly waded into the annual shopping bonanza.

Running a store meant Romanetti would spend the day serving customers rather than hunting down a deal, so she decided to offer Black Friday deals herself.

“The first year we offered 25 percent off and we had people in line when we got here … We brought donuts for them and our customers really had a great time despite standing in line in the cold,” she said. “It was a really neat thing that kind of took on [a life of its own].”

Romanetti spent the next couple of years convincing other shop owners into opening earlier and offering Black Friday sales to their customers.

“I think traditionally, shoppers that do shop on Black Friday have gone to the mall,” she said. “The parking is easier and they know stores are open earlier and they don’t always realize those things are available in Old Town, so businesses were hesitant to jump on board. Business, traditionally, was slow in Alexandria.”

Egerton decided to get in on the Black Friday hoopla a year ago. The turnout was good and he expects even more foot traffic this year. While small, independently owned shops can’t compete with Target and Best Buy on the scope of their sales, they can level the playing field in other ways.

“I have jewelry that can be expensive … and if someone has been looking at one of these and thinking of buying it at Christmas, they can get that piece for 30 percent off on Black Friday. It gives them an incentive,” he said. “What makes it work for the big box stores — they offer several big ticket items for [sale], but you have to be one of the first 10 people in the store. We can’t compete with that, but in a small boutique to get 30 percent off on an expensive necklace, [that is a draw.]”

The combination of small retailers, the Old Town atmosphere and once-a-year sales at local boutiques should prove successful in drawing in both fervent Black Friday shoppers and the kind more likely to sleep in that day, said Claire Mouledoux, of Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association, which is heavily promoting the day-long event.

“My sense is it’s just a way to tap into the biggest shopping day of the year. It’s an opportunity for our local businesses to go head-to-head with the big box stores,” Mouledoux said. “It’s a once a year opportunity to get a sale on everything in the store.”

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